Molecular alterations leading progression of asymptomatic CLL-like high-count monoclonal B lymphocytosis (hiMBL) to chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) remain poorly understood. Recently, genome-wide association studies have found 6p21.3, where the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) system is coded, to be a susceptibility risk region for CLL. Previous studies have produced discrepant results regarding the association between HLA and CLL development and outcome, but no studies have been performed on hiMBL.
We evaluated the role of HLA class I (-A, -B and -C) and class II (-DRB1 and -DQB1) in hiMBL/CLL susceptibility, hiMBL progression to CLL, and treatment requirement in a large series of 263 patients diagnosed in our center with hiMBL (n = 156) or Binet A CLL (n = 107).
No consistent association between HLA specificities and hiMBL or CLL susceptibility was found. With a median follow-up of 7.7 years, 48/156 hiMBLs (33%) evolved to asymptomatic CLLs, while 16 hiMBLs (10%) and 44 CLLs (41%) required treatment. No HLA specificities were found to be significantly associated with hiMBL progression or treatment in the whole cohort. However, within antigen-experienced immunoglobulin heavy-chain (IGHV)-mutated hiMBLs, which represents the highest proportion of hiMBL cases (81%), the presence of HLA-DQB1*03 showed a trend to a higher risk of progression to CLL (60% vs. 26%, P = 0.062). Moreover, HLA-DQB1*02 specificity was associated with a lesser requirement for 15-year treatment (10% vs. 36%, P = 0.012).